Phil Hare Keeping Promises to Veterans

 

By Karen S. Lynch

The Zephyr, Galesburg

 

 

   Congressman Phil Hare, D-Rock Island, is a man of few words but he means every one of them. Six short months after elected to the U.S. Congress representing the 17th Congressional District, Hare picked up the cause of veterans so important to his predecessor, Lane Evans. Hare was chief of staff under Lane Evans the majority of 22 years Evans served in Congress. “I love this committee (veterans) you couldn’t pry it out of my cold, dead hands.” Hare said proudly.

   After a stop at the Kewanee VFW, Hare made a visit at the American Legion Post 285 in Galesburg on July 3 to speak about veteran issues and pending legislation. Hare serves as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He has a keen interest in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Hare also carried his message to Moline and Monmouth, an average day in the district for this active Congressman.

   Announcing the single largest funding increase in the 77-year history of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Hare said the $6.7 billion hike was long overdue and brings funding for veterans to approximately $13 billion. President Bush threatened to veto the bill. “We would have overruled it,” according to Hare, “With the mess at Walter Reed Hospital it just emphasized the problems with veteran benefits.” (What Hare called poor treatment of our veterans.)

   Hare has called for the resignation of VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, hoping for a full hearing on veterans’ issues. Hare is outraged at $3.8 million in bonuses given to the senior officials of the VA including up to $33,000 in bonuses paid to the regional directors of the VA who wrote a faulty 2005 budget with misleading accounting claiming false savings of $1.3 billion. At the same time, the government was trying to cut veteran benefits. Hare also commented that the records of veterans were lost not once, but twice on laptop computers from Walter Reed Hospital, while they say the VA is doing fine. “I’ve reached the end of my rope with this guy.”

   The bipartisan legislation bill, (H.R. 2642) The Assured Funding for Veterans’ Health Care Act of 2007, passed in mid-June announced in a press release June 15, 2007 by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Bob Filner (D-CA). The bill will make funding the VA mandatory in the federal budget rather than at the discretion of Congress. Funding is a looming issue and Hare admits finding that funding next year will be a problem. Escalating war costs and the resulting injuries of fighting two wars in the Middle East are part of the problem increasing demand for veteran benefits. Other veterans are also getting older and sicker, according to Hare, also increasing costs of veteran health care.

   President Bush had proposed massive cuts to the VA budget, while more veterans are returning from war with amputated limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Hare spoke about the number of veteran disability claims, backlogged around 600,000 currently, and expected to reach in excess of one million. It takes an average of 177 days for veterans to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Up to a year or more is common. “That’s not acceptable to me.” Hare commented.

   Hare wants to “pay up front” giving veterans the benefit of doubt by paying half their claim when it is made. “I want to error on the side of the veteran. In my heart of hearts, I believe 99.99% of claims made by veterans actually are disabled. They aren’t cheaters. They wouldn’t be filing claims if they weren’t disabled.” Hare remarked. “It strikes me as if saying, I don’t believe you. I can’t believe our government would do this. At what point can a veteran say enough is enough, I want an attorney.” Hare said he did not believe a veteran should have to sue their government to get their claims settled. “I think the VA should have to pay the cost of filing a claim.” Ginny Shelton, staff assistant to Congressman Hare echoed his view. “I would caution all vets to get representation.”

   Hare also commented that the State of Illinois is ranked 48th in paying claims to veterans. While most states deny 10 to 20 percent of disability claims, Illinois is running towards the high end on claims. Even with changes proposed by Hare, all claims would still be subject to audit review. If a suspicious claim is ruled unfavorable, Hare said they could deal with the very small number of fraudulent claims. Hare told the story of one veteran who waited through 8 years of appeals for Veterans’ Disability, having to start over several times. Unfortunately, the man died before he collected a dime from Veterans’ Affairs.

      At the end of WWII, over 250,000 Philippine veterans served in the United States military. Our government made a promise 62 years ago those veterans would receive a stipend each month. Now, only 18,000 of those veterans are still living. Hare said, “Enough is enough. Give them $500 a month. The VA tried to run the clock out on them.”

   Hare is also outraged that the VA is telling veterans who are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq they do not have PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, even diagnosing some veterans as having adult attention deficit disorder instead. “I’m not going to sit back and hear them say they had a mental problem when they signed up.” Hare continued, “This stuff has to end. I think this administration is so fixated on anything they can do to defend this war.”

  Hare would like to see more money spent on veterans instead of wasted in Iraq. “We have borrowed more money in the last five years than anytime in our Nation’s history.” The Congressman has introduced a bill, Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act to establish a grant program of organizations to train returning veterans as public servants.

   “The transition form the battlefield back into the workforce can be a stressful one. This amendment would simply give our best and brightest men and women the tools they need to fully reintegrate themselves into society following their service.” The Act would increase the number of AmeriCorps volunteers from 25,000 to 100,000 by 2012, increase stipends from $4.725 to $5,225 and initiate a “Summer of Service” program for young people from middle school through high school to serve their community.

   Congressman Hare also commented on where we currently stand in the war. “I want to see an end to this in a timely fashion. This is a Civil War. June was bad and July is not starting much better. We have buried six soldiers in our area alone. That is the worst phone call I ever have to make. I talked to a parent of a son who died. He said his son’s mission every morning was, don’t die.”

  

 July 12, 2007